If Thad Matta was lost for words after Ohio State’s blowout loss at Wisconsin on Sunday, the head coach picked the perfect person to send his message for him.
Matta showed his team a video of an inspirational speech delivered by former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis to the Stanford basketball team during last year’s National Invitational Tournament, one that stressed the importance of intensity and effort.
If No. 18 Ohio State’s 71-45 over Minnesota in front of 16,378 fans in Value City Arena on Feb. 20 is any indication, the Buckeyes received the message loud and clear.
“Believe it or not, I don’t know a whole lot about what goes on around the world, but I kept hearing that guy’s name,” Matta said of Lewis. “It was unique just from the standpoint of a couple messages he had.”
Given the Buckeyes had lost three of their previous four games heading into their match against the Golden Gophers – including the 71-49 loss to the Badgers where players claimed they abandoned the team’s core defensive principles – Matta was willing to try anything.
Ohio State responded with a staunch (19-7, 9-5 Big Ten) defensive effort, holding Minnesota (18-9, 6-8) to one point more than its season low, all while forcing a season-high 24 turnovers and holding the Gophers to a chilly 29.2 shooting percentage.
“After the Wisconsin game, we just wanted to get a win,” sophomore point guard Shannon Scott said. “It was nice that we won by (26), but we just wanted to get the win.”
Deshaun Thomas scored a game-high 19 points, Scott had 11 and LaQuinton Ross added 10 for the Buckeyes, who have now beaten Minnesota each of the last six times the teams have faced.
Andre Hollins scored 11 points and Oto Osenieks had 10 for Minnesota, but symptoms from the Gophers’ 72-51 loss at Iowa on Sunday made it impossible for them to overcome the angry Buckeyes on their home floor.
“We have just had problems taking care of the ball, and that’s something that’s been a real issue for us all year,” Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith said. “You have to give Ohio State a lot of credit thought. They turned up the heat defensively.”
Thomas had only two points in the first 16 minutes of the game, but he scored five during Ohio State’s 8-3 run to close out the first half – capped by a three-pointer from Aaron Craft at the buzzer – to give the Buckeyes the 29-23 advantage at the break.
Thomas picked up from where he left off by opening the second half with a three from the left wing and added another triple to put Ohio State up 37-28 with 16:46 remaining in the game.
Hollins’ jumper on Minnesota’s ensuing possession, but the Gophers wouldn’t get any closer as it went roughly 10½ between field goals. By the time Osenieks made a layup with 5:38 left, OSU had already enjoyed a 16-0 run to put the game away.
Ohio State’s lead ballooned all the way up to 30 when freshman guard Amadeo Della Valle buried a triple with 2:05 remaining in the game. The Buckeyes, who got scoring from nine different players, poured their frustration out on the struggling Gophers down the stretch of the contest.
“We played with a lot of heart and we played great defense. We held them to 29 percent shooting, and that’s what Ohio State basketball is all about,” Thomas said. “We played as a team, we got the ‘W,’ and we were together out there.”
The comments were a far cry from the ones that followed the blowout loss to the Badgers. Matta has spent all week reminding Ohio State that it simply cannot allow another performance of that kind to reoccur this season.
The head coach seemed content to move forward after the Buckeyes’ therapeutic win, but the message remains the same as it was when Matta felt the need to show the team the Lewis video.
“Its not in terms of, ‘Hey we’re back.’ We’re not that good,” Matta said. “We have to continue to come in every day and practice hard and continue to learn and find ways to get better. I think that’s the biggest thing I am on these guys about right now.”
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